McMaster Firing Abrupt, Upended Plans to Clean House

Top White House staffers were preparing to fire several troublesome figures at once when the President suddenly upended the plan.

POLITICO (“McMaster firing upends plan to oust other top Trump officials“):

President Donald Trump’s decision to abruptly fire national security adviser H.R. McMaster surprised senior White House aides who had been preparing a single statement announcing the departure of multiple top Trump officials, according to two senior administration officials.

White House chief of staff John Kelly and other top aides were waiting for inspector general reports that they believed would deliver devastating verdicts on Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who have both been accused of racking up extravagant expenses. They were also debating whether several senior White House aides, including McMaster, should go with them.

It’s unclear which other West Wing officials were possibly set to depart with McMaster, but the two senior administration officials said they believed it would be easier to manage the optics if multiple firings were made public in a single statement instead of drawn out. The announcement, though, was not expected for at least another week.

Trump, however, upended those plans late Thursday, firing McMaster and offering his job to former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton in a move that surprised not only his top advisers — but also Bolton himself.

Though the hawkish conservative has spoken with the president several times in recent weeks, those close to him say he had no indication the president would offer him the job when he went to the White House for a meeting on Thursday. Bolton also was passed over for a top State Department job last year, reportedly because Trump was turned off by his bristly, full mustache.

And while McMaster has been the subject of multiple news reports in recent weeks predicting his imminent departure, Trump was said to be slow-walking the final decision, waiting for a strong replacement and appropriate landing spot for McMaster. White House aides, however, said the onslaught of news reports about McMaster’s inevitable demise had made it difficult for him to continue in the job.

A senior White House official said Thursday evening that Trump made clear earlier in the day that he had made the call to fire McMaster but did not indicate when. “Trump upends whatever he wants to upend,” a second White House official said.

The exact trigger for the timing of the ouster is unclear, but it comes on the heels of another damaging leak involving national security matters. The Washington Post late Tuesday revealed that briefing materials had instructed Trump “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” during his call with newly reelected Russian President Vladimir Putin — guidance that Trump ignored.

The unexpectedly quick personnel change is the latest example of Trump’s mercurial nature and his newfound confidence to follow his gut instincts. Earlier this month, Trump pulled the trigger on firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after flirting with the decision for months but being advised against the move by some of his senior aides.

This makes bad news even worse.

McMaster’s ouster had been rumored for some time. That it happened without the soft landing the President was looking for was explainable by institutional reasons, Now, it’s pretty clear that it was done hastily to get an embarrassing story off the television.

Ditto the choice of Bolton as the replacement. It was awful enough that an erratic personality known to be extremely bellicose on both Iran and North Korea was coming in. But this confirms that Trump’s prime hesitation wasn’t over policy but rather the mustache.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tony W says:

    The president acts like this is some sort of game. It’s time for him to take his job seriously

  2. MBunge says:

    Are the people leaking this story the same ones who leaked the President’s national security briefing? Or the ones responsible for numerous other leaks designed to do nothing but make Trump look bad? Or are these brand new leakers?

    It really is a mystery why Trump would be given to abrupt decisions without consulting people. A mystery, I say.


  3. Lounsbury says:

    Bunge is a drooling moron. Reality makes Trump look bas, not leaks. Bloody incompetent cretin, both.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Are the people leaking this story the same ones….

    trump hires, every damn one of them. Maybe you should ask yourself “Why is it everyone in the trump admin is so bad? Why can’t trump hire quality thugs who will have his back?”

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Remember ‘No Drama Obama?” The much-derided “community organizer” did an infinitely better job of hiring and staffing. We did not get real-time leaks every three minutes under Obama. Obama was competent. Obama was a grown-up.

    Obama was president of the United States and leader of the free world.

    Trump is a vile, incompetent, treasonous, criminal buffoon. His supporters, ditto.

  6. Franklin says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Basically what I was thinking, but you pinpointed it more accurately. He’s going to hire thugs, because he’s attracted to thugs. But why can’t he get the best thugs? Is it because the best aren’t interested in working with President Incompetent?

  7. JohnMcC says:

    @Franklin: I have something of a contrarian view; I think that probably there are not any better spokespersons for whatever ‘idea’ and ‘rationality’ and ‘logic’ might be found behind the present version of the ‘conservative movement’. I think we’re seeing the best they got.

    I’m expecting the Republican Party to be pretty near death after the ’20 election. And I’m hoping that some libertarian of the PaulRand/DougMattacomis stamp runs out of the bush and puts the bugger out of it’s misery. With a permanent 10- 20% “Republican” party maybe the U.S. can recover from the Republicans of their last several administrations.

    (edit) – This assumes that we all live to see an election of 2020.

  8. Tony W says:


    This assumes that we all live to see an election of 2020.

    Trump is absolutely speeding up my early retirement plans.

    I’m planning for 40 years, but I probably don’t need to plan for 40 months at this pace.